By Don Steese
For The Daily Item
For a lot of hunters my age, pheasants were what originally got us hooked on the sport. Those of us who started hunting back in the ’60s, the heyday of wild pheasant hunting in Pennsylvania, can remember going out on the first day of what we called small game season, coming to the end of a field and seeing multiple wild pheasants erupt into the air.
Getting a two-bird limit usually didn’t take very long even with limited wingshooting skills. Many of us would go out on Thanksgiving morning, which was very near the end of the season, and kill a limit before noon. All this was before I owned my first bird dog. It was heady stuff for a young hunter!
Fast forward to today and about the only pheasants you’re likely to encounter in the Keystone state are pen-raised birds stocked by the PGC — with one notable exception!
Back in 2007 some local Pheasants Forever members, with the cooperation of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, live-trapped wild pheasants in Montana and South Dakota and re-stocked them in the Turbotville/Washingtonville area. This is an area which had nearly as much set-aside land as had been the case during the soil bank days of the ’60s. If a wild pheasant population could be established and maintained anywhere in the state, this was the place!
Just a couple weeks ago a flushing count was done on a 50-acre field near Turbotville and over 170 wild pheasants were put into the air! No birds had been stocked on this property since 2008 so these had to be birds that had been born and raised there! That is enough to make any wild pheasant lover’s heart go pitter-patter!
The area in question is part of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Wild Pheasant Recovery program and I don’t think I’d be too far off the mark to say that this is the most successful area in the program. The key, of course, is habitat.
This kind of recovery can only happen when there’s enough idle land planted with the right kind of pheasant cover. CREP is the name of the program that establishes and maintains this kind of habitat here in Pennsylvania. The more land enrolled in the CREP program, the more the chances of pheasant survival. The grasses that are used in the program also benefit many other species of farmland wildlife, so it’s not just beneficial to those of us who are interested in bringing back wild pheasants.
As with everything else, the program is going to have it’s detractors. There are those who are constantly questioning the PGC about when hunting will be allowed in the area in question. There are those who say the money could be better spent on improving habitat for ruffed grouse, a bird native to Pennsylvania. There are also those who believe that the money should be spent to stock more pen-raised birds. I happen to disagree.
I don’t hunt pheasants anymore and probably wouldn’t even if we had them in great numbers. I go west each year and drive through some of the best pheasant country in the U.S., on my way to hunt other birds. I simply think there are other birds that are more mannerly around a pointing dog.
However, I love knowing that there are wild pheasants thriving within a few miles of my house. I like to drive around in late summer and see hens with chicks or sit by a quiet roadside and hear cocks crowing.
I salute the folks who have worked long and hard to make this program a success!
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